All the firstling males that come of your herd and of your flock you shall sanctify to the LORD your God…
As God is supreme, so his claim to recognition and obedience must have consideration prior to all other claims. Such priority is his indefeasible right; such priority best subserves the interests of men. The first day of the week he claims and hallows; the firstfruits of the soil he claims for religious offering; the first place in our affections he asks as his due; the firstborn, both of man and of beast, he marks as his own. This is his royalty.
I. THE REPRODUCTIONS OF LIFE A CONTINUOUS CREATION OF GOD. It is acknowledged on every side that life can only spring from life. No arrangements of material atoms - no processes of chemical change with which men are acquainted - can produce life. It is a force unique in itself, and can only rationally be traced to the creative power of a personal God. The potency to reproduce life, which God has placed in all the species, is as clearly a demonstration of his creative energy as if he manifestly and alone created each individual being. We cannot escape from the conclusion that he is sole Life-giver. "I kill," saith God, "and I make alive."
II. THE CLAIM OF THE FIRSTBORN ALONE IS A CONCESSION OF THE FULLEST RIGHTS OF GOD. He has a rightful proprietorship in all life. But he allows to man, as his liege vassal, dominion over the inferior races of his creatures. Acknowledgment of man's subjection must, however, be made; tribute must be paid to the Heavenly King. This arrangement is an act of combined justice and kindness. For man's highest good, he must be kept in perpetual remembrance of his dependence and his obligation. If the springs of gratitude in man's nature should dry up, his loss would be immeasurable. Every memorial we have of God is a gospel.
III. GOD'S CLAIM AND MAN'S ENJOYMENT ARE IDENTICAL. This devotement of the firstlings to God was no real loss: it was every way a blessing. It cherished in them a feeling of filial dependence. It took them up to the temple, year by year, and so brought them into close contact with eternal things. It served to link religion with the commonest affairs of daily life. It taught them that God found a pleasure in their enjoyments, and that his commandments were promotive of real delight. Thus the acts of Jehovah's worship were not identified with fasting and austerity, but with eating and drinking in the sacred temple. The pleasure was all the greater because it was social. In the banquet and festivity the whole household partook.
IV. IMPERFECT SACRIFICES PROHIBITED. Very evident is it that this demand of the firstborn was designed for spiritual instruction. However great God's care for our bodily life appears, his desire for our souls' well-being is immeasurably greater. By such visible and impressive methods God sought to teach the Jews that perfection of nature was God's design, and that such perfection would alone find a place in his heavenly temple. The best feelings and aspirations of our nature yearn after perfection. Nothing less will satisfy the mind of God; nothing less will satisfy us. "Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness."
V. YET BLEMISHED LIFE IS BETTER THAN BARRENNESS. A lame or a blemished lamb - a firstborn - was not utterly useless. It served as food for man, it sustained human life. But it was deprived of the honor of being devoted to God. Imperfect service is not altogether useless in the world. If we do a kindness to a neighbor, though no love to God prompt the deed, some good will result. Continuance in good deeds will gradually lead to better feelings and to nobler purposes. He who serves well his fellow-men now, will ere long learn to serve God. Let us ever follow the best sentiments which arise within, though yet very imperfect. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: All the firstling males that come of thy herd and of thy flock thou shalt sanctify unto the LORD thy God: thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock, nor shear the firstling of thy sheep.
WEB: All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and of your flock you shall sanctify to Yahweh your God: you shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.